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Three Takeaways — Philadelphia vs. Salt Lake

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Welcome back to another edition of Three Takeaways, a segment in which I dive in after each Philadelphia Union match, revisit and take a closer look at what went well and what ultimately did not.

On Saturday, May 19 the Philadelphia Union returned to Talen Energy Stadium, welcoming Real Salt Lake to Chester, PA. Philadelphia ended the match with three more points to its name, soundly defeating Salt Lake 4-1.

Each of the Union’s goals were scored by different players, with Czech international Borek Dockal, young winger Marcus Epps (who nearly had two), Brazilian Ilson Jr., and full-back Keegan Rosenberry all getting on the scoresheet.

But enough talk. I’ll break down arguably the Union’s most impressive game this season thus far.

Playing Forward

Throughout this year, the Union have rarely shown the urge to push up and play aggressive soccer in the attacking third. They have rarely maintained the high-level of tempo they show early on, for the whole game, and put their opponents under constant pressure.

Yet, on Saturday, the Union drove back RSL, firing off 19 shots, and forcing 6 saves from RSL’s veteran keeper Nick Rimando. Less than half of their shots missed the goal altogether, an improvement for the Boys-in-Blue.

Players like Fafa Picault and Dockal got enough touches to create countless opportunities, even if they did not end up in the back of Rimando’s net. Obviously, it is better for these situations to end in some kind of attempt on goal, or a goal itself, but it is a drastic improvement for the Union to be creating so many more chances, and it hints at an improvement in the attacking side of their game.

For the majority of the game, the ball seemed to stay in either eighteen, however, the Union only allowed RSL to get off 13 shots, letting only one slip past Andre Blake. Salt Lake also rarely got second or third chances at goal throughout the game, with the Union backline holding their ground and allowing the Union midfield to push the ball up the field, towards RSL’s defensive third.

Lining Up in the Box

One of my biggest pet peeves all season long has been the lack of Union players in the box, waiting to receive a cross from their teammates out wide. However, in Philadelphia’s win against Real, there was nearly two players in the box at all times.

When Rosenberry tapped this ball past Rimando, there were a total of eight players in or around the box, each of whom could’ve easily scored. And this was not an isolated situation.

When Dockal chipped this effort into the net, both he and CJ Sapong were ready for a play in the penalty area, with Picault following closely behind.

And finally, when Ilsinho and Marcus Epps scored, there were three and four more blue jerseys ready to score, in each respective play.

Having players near the goal is a game changer, and that was clearly reflected on Saturday.

Having a solid attack all game, the Union played arguably the most electric 90 minutes of soccer this season. And, while they were by no means perfect, at this point in the season, with 14 points in 11 games, most fans are looking for small improvements that will help the Union rise in the rankings.

Saturday was certainly another step in the right direction for head coach Jim Curtin’s team, who won their second straight after defeating the Montreal Impact last weekend in Canada.

Great Ball Movement

One of the things that I was most pleased to see throughout the match was the Union’s ball movement.

Philadelphia managed to send balls downfield, to attackers who in turn created solid scoring opportunities for the team, something that fans have been looking for them to do since the beginning of the season.

Before the first game of the season, Curtin talked about what it was like training with Dockal, and how the Czech impacted the team’s overall play.

Reportedly, Dockal was frustrated with the lack of attentiveness from the team, asking why no one ran when he looked to send balls downfield. Curtin replied that the team just wasn’t used to a player who could make that happen. However, the Union must have become accustomed to Dockal’s style of play, as they received several long balls throughout the match.

At the final whistle, the Union had an impressive 81% passing accuracy rating, which probably stemmed from their short-passing and movement of the ball around the box, as they did leading up to Rosenberry’s goal.

For me, this is a great sign for Philadelphia. Curtin’s side is showing patience and a heightened level of maturity, knowing when to move the ball around, when to take the shot and when to pass the ball.

If this type of play continues deeper into the season, the Boys-in-Blue stand a solid chance at capturing a decent year.

While I am fairly satisfied with the Union’s play against RSL, there are some things that the Union could work on. For instance, Ray Gaddis didn’t play as well as he did in Montreal, and Sapong didn’t get many good touches. However, I’m still hopeful.

Make sure to check back next week, when Lister breaks down the Union’s play away from home, against the New York Red Bulls on Saturday, May 26th.

 

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